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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26147


Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:28 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill in his capacity representing the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister confirm that the Howard government will appeal the decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to allow for the public release of documents relating to the attempted appointment of former Senator John Herron as High Commissioner to Canada and documents relating to Mr Herron's eventual appointment to Ireland and the Holy See? Don't these documents prove conclusively that the Howard government did, in fact, take steps to appoint Mr Herron to Canada, pursuant to a commitment by the Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister's statements to the parliament denying such an appointment are false and misleading? Will the minister come clean and confirm that the government initiated steps to appoint Mr Herron as High Commissioner to Canada?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have to confess that I am relying on newspaper reports that the government has decided to appeal the decision. I will refer that to the PM if it is important and check that that is the case. The government is, of course, perfectly entitled to appeal questions of law if it does not accept the judgment that has been made thereon. In relation to Dr Herron's appointment, from all reports I have had—although I have been unable to visit him in Ireland—he is doing a fantastic job working diligently in the interests of the Commonwealth and is proving to be—


Senator Patterson —Better than Burke!


Senator HILL —Certainly a lot better than at least one of his predecessors. I would not want to embarrass the Labor Party by reminding them of that appointment. He is doing a good job for Australia. He is a great ambassador for Australia and a great representative. Certainly it shows that parliamentary service should not be a disqualification. Some of the best ambassadors that we have had have provided service to the parliament.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I do not understand that slur on Senator Tate—it seemed most unwarranted given his excellent service as ambassador to Ireland. Is it not the case that the Howard government's claim that disclosure of these documents would damage relations with Canada was completely undermined by the evidence that the former High Commissioner to Canada, Mr Greg Woods, provided to the AAT—that the release of the documents would be `absolutely inconsequential from the point of view of the other country'? Minister, is it not true that your government attempted to appoint Senator Herron to the post of High Commissioner to Canada in 2001 but cancelled the appointment at the last minute because of your disastrous result at the Ryan by-election? Will you confirm that there was an attempt to appoint him as High Commissioner to Canada?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I guess it is not surprising: here we are a matter of weeks from a federal election and we still have not had one question on policy today—not one question on policy. We had Mr Beazley go to the Press Club today. He has just taken over as defence spokesman from Senator Evans. He promised policy. He said he was going to announce another battalion for the Army. He floated it with the press. He told them to listen to what he would have to say at the Press Club today. What did we hear? Nothing. Just an hour of waffle.


Senator Faulkner —So why did you lie?


Senator HILL —I have to say to Senator Evans, seeing as he has asked the question, I am sorry that the Labor Party has gone back 20—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, I believe you are stepping outside parliamentary guidelines. I ask you to withdraw those accusations.


Senator Faulkner —I do not think, `Why did you lie?' is unparliamentary.


The PRESIDENT —It is.


Senator Faulkner —I do not think it is.


The PRESIDENT —You know it is and I would ask you to withdraw.


Senator Faulkner —It is to accuse someone of being—


The PRESIDENT —I would ask you to withdraw.


Senator Faulkner —I am happy to withdraw it, but I take a point of order now.


The PRESIDENT —Resume your seat. Thank you.


Senator Ian Campbell —Mr President, I raise a point of order.


The PRESIDENT —I have dealt with the matter, Senator. I do not think there is any point in going on with it.


Senator Ian Campbell —The point of order is that I have been trying to listen to my leader answer a question but I cannot hear him because this rabble opposite have been continuously interjecting, led by their so-called leader. He should be told not to interject.


The PRESIDENT —Senator, as I indicated earlier today, there is a lot of noise from both sides of the chamber and we cannot pick out just one side of the chamber for interjecting; it happens on both sides. I ask the Senate to come to order.


Senator Faulkner —Mr President, can I take my point of order now?


The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner.


Senator Faulkner —The minister has made no attempt at all to answer this important supplementary question that has been asked by Senator Evans—none whatsoever. My point of order is that I ask you to draw his responsibilities to his attention and ask him to address the question that has been asked about Dr Herron. That is the question that has been asked; it is not a question about Mr Beazley or anybody else or about the defence portfolio. It is a question, Mr President, in relation to Ambassador Herron. That is the requirement on the minister, and if he does not answer the question he should be asked to sit down.


The PRESIDENT —Senator, you know and I know that I cannot direct a minister how to answer a question. He has 12 seconds. I refer the minister back to the question.


Senator HILL —I was just saying that I was disappointed for Senator Evans because I thought it was most unfair that the Labor Party went back 20 years to find a defence spokesman. I thought Senator Evans was doing a fair job. After this question and supplementary, I am not so sure. (Time expired)